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Syracuse's Fab Melo Will Not Play in NCAA Tournament

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 09: Fab Melo #51 of the Syracuse Orange drives to the basket against the Cincinnati Bearcats during the semifinals of the Big East men's basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 9, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Jordan SchwartzSenior Writer IMarch 13, 2012

The news came crashing down like 20 inches of lake-effect snow in Central New York: Syracuse University center Fab Melo will not take part in the NCAA tournament due to an eligibility issue, according to a release by the school.

The Orange, who entered this week's tournament as one of the favorites to cut down the nets in New Orleans next month, must now play as a top seed without their starting center for the second time in three years.

In 2010, Arinze Onuaku injured his right leg during a quarterfinal loss to Georgetown in the Big East tournament and missed the Big Dance, where SU lost to Butler in the Sweet 16.

Melo missed three games in late January due to an eligibility issue that reportedly had to do with academics. The first contest the Cuse played without its big man resulted in the team's first loss of the season after a 20-0 start, a 67-58 setback at Notre Dame.

But Jim Boeheim's crew won its next two games without Melo, grabbing a victory at Cincinnati and beating West Virginia at home.

No one would have thought the seven-foot tall sophomore would be so valuable after his dreadful freshman season last year, during which he averaged fewer than 10 minutes, two rebounds and three points per game.

But Melo did a complete 180 this year, averaging nearly eight points, six rebounds and three blocks in 25.4 minutes per game. He was also a crucial part of Syracuse's vaunted 2-3 zone.

The players who will have to step up in Melo's absence are 6-8 forward C.J. Fair, who has been a great role player off the bench but doesn't quite have the height to fill the center position, and 6-10 center Baye Keita, who has the height, but not the size nor the coordination of Melo.

This is the latest in a series of devastating news Syracuse has had to deal with this season. In the fall, longtime assistant coach Bernie Fine was dismissed from the team after accusations of child molestation and more recently, it was reported that the basketball program repeatedly violated its own drug policy over the past decade.

The Orange were able to shrug off those prior distractions en route to a sparkling 31-2 season, but this latest blow should have the biggest impact on their on-court success.

 

Jordan is one of Bleacher Report's College Basketball Featured Columnists. Follow him on Twitter @JordanHarrison.

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